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The Towers of Ireland
Hundreds of tall, round towers dot the Irish countryside. Many of these are located near a church or ruins of a church and were used by the monks as a safe place during attacks. There is no conventional door in these towers but rather an opening high up out of reach of a normal ladder or other normal means of climbing, that was reached by a rope ladder then pulled up behind

The vikings extended the concept of fortified enclosures for protection by building walls around entire villages or towns with towers, usually round in shape, set in the walls at intervals to watch for enemies.

Other square towers are fortified town houses, livable full time but not as large or elaborate as a castle might be, yet affording the occupants a certain degree of safety against attack.


Ashford Castle The name Ballinacarriga is Irish is Beal na Carraige which means the mouth or passage of rock. Ballinacarriga Castle lies about midway between Ballineen and Dunmanway, right off the main road. A clearly sign posted side road leads about a mile and a half to Manch Bridge over the Bandon River to the castle. To the south is is a lake and from it a stream runs under a small bridge and the walls of the castle to join the Bandon River to the north. This stream supplied the castle with fresh water in its days of glory.

The castle is a four storey tower, built on a rocky eminence with a good view in all directions, and overlooks Ballinacarriga Lough (lake). It is unique for the number of important stone carvings it contains, mainly on what was the third floor, and is easily accessible by a circular stone stairway built into the thickness of the castle walls. These carvings are mostly religious in nature.

In one window arch, on the top floor, the Crucifixion is shown, Christ on the cross, between two thieves, with the instruments of the passion nearby - a crown of thorns, a hammer, and a heart pierced with two swords. In the soffit on the north window are the initials "R.M. C.C." and the date 1585. These are believed to be the initials of Randal Murlihy (Hurley) and his wife Catherine Cullinane, and the date of the erection of the building - although its is generally accepted that the greater part of the castle is older and may have been in the possession of the MacCarthys before the Hurleys took over. Formerly, the Hurleys occupied lands about a mile to the south, in the townland of Gloun, where some scant remains of buildings are to be seen. On the opposite window are intricate carvings around a chessboard design, and also the figure of a woman with five roses, which has been stated to represent Catherine Cullinane and her five children, but is more generally believed locally to be of the Blessed Virgin.

All these carvings would tend to support a local tradition that the top floor was used as a chapel as well as being the main living room of the castle. It is believed that Mass was still being said here until the nearby chapel was built in 1815 by Father James Doheny, although the castle itself would long have been uninhabited by then.

The presence of a "Sheila na Gig" above and to the right of the main door of the castle would appear to substantiate this, as these unusual female figure are often for some unknown reason found on the outside walls of medieval churches.

Outside to the southeast is the remnant of one of the four defense towers, which guarded the main tower of the castle itself. The other three have disappeared.

The basement of the castle would have had a wooden ceiling - the stone corbels to keep it in place are still to be seen, as is the impressive high stone arch of the second floor. On the second floor there is a mural gallery (that is built into the thickness of the wall) leading to the garderobe, or lavatory, which is on the north side over a chute. For some reason this is known as "Moll the Phooka's Hole". Phookas being associated with wrecked castles. They are usually believed to take the form of a black horse, or sometimes a large black dog. The third floor contains the carvings already mentioned, and also a fine fireplace. The roof of course is missing, as are the parapets with their battlements.

The castle is reported to have been occupied by a garrison of Cromwell's men for a time and when they were leaving they would, as was their usual practice, have removed the overhanging parapets with their machicolations, thus depriving the castle of its main defense against further attack. However there remains a machicolous of a rather unusual type on each of the southeast and northwest corners of the building, complete with their machicolations (which are the holes, downwards, through which the defenders could fire arrows or guns, or pour molten lead).

The castle provides an excellent opportunity for visitors to get a good idea of what a medieval castle was like to live in.

Picture and text contributed by Mark Flower

Doe Castle, Co. Donegal

Doe Castle, Co. Donegal Doe Castle is a four-storey tower standing in a square turreted bawn built early in the 16th century on a beautiful site on Sheep Haven Bay by MacSweeney na d'Tuath, foster father of Red Hugh O'Donnell. The moat on the landward side has been hewn out of the rock.The castle is first mentioned in 1544 in connection with internecine wars between the sons of MacSweeney Doe. Wrecked sailors from the Spanish Armada were granted refuge here in 1588. By 1600 it had been taken over by Eoghan Og MacSweeny, an ally of the English, who was unsuccessfully besieged there by his brother Rory in 1601.Red Hugh O'Donnell attacked the castle unsuccessfully in 1601, but shortly afterwards the castle was granted by the Crown to Rory O'Donnell.

Taken again by the MacSweeneys in 1606, it was captured again by Rory O'Donnell in the following year. In the same year it was granted to Sir Basil Brooke, but was taken in 1608 by Sir Cahir O'Doherty's allies and shortly afterwards retaken by Crown forces. It was then granted to a number of English men before it fell into Irish hands again in 1641. In the following year it greeted Owen Roe O'Neill back to Ireland.

Captured by surprise by Coote for the Cromwellians in 1650, it later served as a Royal garrison under Charles 11. In the Williamite wars it was captured by Donough Og MacSweeney but was taken by the English again shortly afterwards. It was extensively repaired by Hart at the end of the 18th century and inhabited by his family until 1843 then deserted.

Farney Castle, Co. Tipperary

Farney Castle, Co. Tipperary Farney Castle is the only Round Tower in Ireland occupied as a family home. The first castle was built at Farney in 1185 and this would have been a timbered structure. The present round tower was built in 1495 by Thomas Butler, 7th Earl of Ormond, and it was part of a defensive system created by the Butlers to protect their land in Tipperary. The Butlers were in Farney Castle for 500 years but in 1536 the castle was confiscated by King Henry VIII of England. He returned the lands again to the Butlers in 1538 when he married Anne Boleyn who was the daughter of James, 3rd Earl of Ormond. Subsequently the castle was occupied for short periods by two other English monarchs namely King James 1st from 1617 - 1625, and King George 1st from 1716 -1721.

For more history, information and interior pictures Click Here.

O'Brien's Tower, Co. Clare

O'Brien's Tower, Co. Clare O'Brien's Tower was built on the edge of the towering Cliffs of Moher as an observation point in 1835 by Cornelius (Corney) O'Brian, a descendant of Brian Boru, the High King of Ireland , and the O'Brien's of Bunratty Castle, Kings of Thomond.

The tower gives a panoramic view of the Clare coast line southward to the mouth of the Shannon River and Kerry Mountains. West and north are the Aran Islands, Galway City and the Twelve Bens of Connemara.

Nearby thousands of birds nest among the many cliffs and ledges.

The tower has been restored and now serves as a tourist information center and weather permitting, is open from March until October 29th.

Reginalds Tower, Co. Waterford

Reginalds Tower Reginalds Tower has stood on its Waterford Quay site for more than a thousand years.

The present structure dates from the late 12th century and is the oldest urban civic building in the country. It has recently been completely restored to its medieval a ppearance.

The heritage museum houses two fascinating collections. On the ground floor, artefacts from the Viking and Medieval periods are on display. The mezzanine floor houses one of Ireland's great collections of decorated charters and civic regali a.

Rockfleet Castle, Co. Mayo

Rockfleet Castle, Co. Mayo Rockfleet Castle (Carraig-an-Cabhlaigh ) also known as Carrickahowley Castle stands at the mouth of a small inlet on the northern shores of Clew Bay in County Mayo, Eire. The Castle is renowned for its links with Grace O`Malley ( or Granuaile ), a pirate sea Queen who inhabited the castle in the latter part of the 16th Century.

Grace was reputed to have command of three galleys and some 200 fighting men with which she was able to give the merchant ships to and from Galway a hard time. In fact she became so successful in this that in March of 1574 the English sent an expedition of ships and troops to put an end to her maritime exploits. They laid siege to the castle for many days but Grace turned the tables on them and the hunters became the hunted. The expeditionary force only just escaped capture themselves.

It is perhaps all the more remarkable then, that some years later in 1593 Grace , captaining her own Galley, sailed from Rockfleet Bay, round the south coast of Ireland through the Straits of Dover and up the Thames estuary in order to speak with Elizabeth I . How she escaped a hanging for being a pirate and a rebel let alone being granted an audience with the English queen is a tribute in itself to the courage and determination of this legendary woman.

Thoor Ballylee, Co. Galway

Thoor Ballylee, Co. Galway Thoor Ballylee is sometimes called a castle but is really more of a tower. It is located near Gort in Co. Galway.

It was purchased in the 1920's by the poet W.B. Yeats and used as his summer residence. Later the tower figured prominently in his writings.

Very narrow, steep and worn stone stairs wind their way to the top of the tower. Off each landing is a small alcove area with loopholes or possibly arrow loops and room for one or two men. Each floor otherwise has basically one room. The floorspace on each level is surprisingly small, given in part to the immense thickness of the outer walls.

While being deceptive as to floor space, the height of the tower is even more so. When you climb to the top and look out over the battlements it is surprising how high up you really are.

The tower is open to visitors, has a nice gift shop and there is a short presentation about the tower and Yeats.

Tynte's Castle, Co. Cork

Tynte's Castle, Co. Cork Tynte's Castle is an urban tower house located on the eastern side of North Main St., Youghal, County Cork. It is the sole remaining example of several urban tower houses that were formally to be found in Youghal. It is one of only two such remaining structures in County Cork, the other being the French prison in Kinsale. The building is an important part of the fabric of the town of Youghal ; it is not just part of the history of this important medieval port, it also forms part of it�s present standing as a Heritage town. It is a rare example of an urban tower house, a fortified residence within a fortified town, and it is the only such monument in East Cork.

The Castle was erected in the late fifteenth century as a fortified residence for the Walshe Family, who were Anglo-Norman merchants in the town. It remained in their possession, until, it was lost to them during the Desmond rebellions in 1584. The castle was subsequently leased by the Town corporation to Sir Robert Tynte, a Somerset Knight. It was converted into a dry goods store in the early nineteenth century and remained as such, until, it was purchased by the McCarthy family of Youghal in the 1950's.